“Each worker has a quota to fill every day and every night. Because the factory works around the clock. It never stops. Not for a second.”
PRI’s The World (3/18/19)
Slaying online trolls can be a lonely business. Just ask Russia’s Lyudmila Savchuk, who first exposed the story of Russia’s disinformation campaign back in 2014.
The journalist and 33-year-old mother of two, Savchuk started noticing websites and social media accounts attacking local opposition activists in her hometown of Saint Petersburg with a frequency she hadn’t seen before.
The posts were all too similar. The verbal assaults too coordinated. So, when Savchuk later heard that an organization rumored to be behind the campaign — the Internet Research Agency or IRA — was hiring writers, she went for it.
“The work occasionally dipped into the absurd: at one point, Savchuk had to pretend to be a fortune teller named “Cantadora” — mixing blog musings on astrology, crystals, and rare gemstones with pro-Kremlin talking points.”
“I wanted to get in there to see how it works, of course,” says Savchuk. “But the most important thing was to see if there was some way to stop it.”
She was hired as a blogger and told to report to Savushkina 55, a nondescript four-story office building on the outskirts of town.
Once on the inside, Savchuk was stunned to see hundreds of mostly younger Russians working as paid trolls in rotating shifts.
Roaming the halls when she could — cameras were everywhere — Savchuk discovered the IRA was full of different “departments.” There was the “news division,” the “social media seeders”, and a group dedicated to producing visual memes known as “demotivators.” …